In June this year, Amazon announced it would be expanding its return-to-work initiative by hiring 1,000 professionals who wanted to return to the workforce after an extended career break. This is reportedly larger than any other return-to-work programme. Most companies hire small cohorts numbering a few dozen when experimenting with initiatives to recruit such mid-career professionals.
However, the economic shifts brought about by Covid-19 have accentuated the need to ramp up such programmes. While some sectors have been devastated, others such as tech, e-commerce and FinTech have grown and are hungry for talent.
Experts say that aside from being a great source of talent, return-to-work programmes acknowledge people’s life stages and normalise the idea of career breaks while recognising that careers need not be linear. According to research by ManpowerGroup, 57 per cent of male and 74 per cent of female millennials anticipate taking a career break at some point in their lives for childcare, eldercare, or to support a partner in a job.
Whether your company chooses to roll out such initiatives in the form of returnships with an intent to hire (Barring poor performance, the individual will be offered permanent employment after a professional development and training programme.) or in the form of a direct-hire model (Companies hire individuals as full-time employees with no trial period, but provide support such as one-on-one coaching, online learning, and mentoring.), here are some tips on maximising returning professionals’ success in tandem with your organisation’s success.
1. Address Biases against Return-to-Work Professionals
Many assume that professionals who’ve taken a career break are likely to be less driven or that their skills would be outdated.
However, companies that have implemented return-to-work programmes typically say that individuals who choose to return tend to be driven. For them, returning to work is a conscious choice stemming from a desire for paid employment and professional growth. Many of them also make it a point to stay up to date on industry trends and skills needs.
Such professionals tend to be mature and have deep work experience that enables them to better understand and navigate working in teams with varied personalities. They also come equipped with basic skills and abilities that entry-level employees tend to lack. These include meeting tight deadlines and a willingness to reskill and upskill.
In order to ensure that the rest of your employees support and embrace return-to-work colleagues, communicate the merits of welcoming such individuals into the team and address biases with data-driven research and success stories of return-to-work employees.
2. Treat Returnship Participants Like the Professionals They Are
If you choose to welcome such professionals through returnships, be mindful of not referring to them as ‘interns’. While returnships are similar to student internships in some ways (e.g. orientation, training, evaluations, etc.), returnees should never be made to feel as if they are interns. Treat all returnees like the seasoned professionals they are. This will show that you recognise their experience and expertise. It will also give them the confidence they need to excel.
3. Designate Champions
For such programmes to be successful, it is essential to have buy-in at the leadership level. Identify executive champions who would pilot such programmes in their departments, execute the necessary communication and dialogue sessions to tell employees about the programme, and provide resources to managers to ensure success.
It would also be ideal to designate a programme manager who would take ownership of the initiative. This person would take a leadership role in implementing it and ensuring that the elements necessary for its success are aligned.
4. Train Recruiters and Managers
In order for such programmes to truly succeed, recruiters and managers must be trained to conduct the interview process in ways that would help them more accurately identify high-potential mid-career candidates. For instance, if the candidate doesn’t have all the requisite hard skills for the job, recruiters and managers must ask questions to suss out his or her ability to learn. Instead of being fixated on resume or skills gaps, recruiters should be trained to focus on each candidate’s potential.
All the people involved in the process should be reminded to handle such candidates with respect. At all times and especially when discussing issues such as compensation and professional development, recruiters and managers tend to speak to return-to-work professionals as if they are entry-level employees. This can be demeaning and should be avoided. They are, after all, seasoned professionals.
5. Train Returnees
While return-to-work employees tend to be enthusiastic about starting work, having been out of a workplace setting for an extended period means they are likely to need some help adjusting.
Training typically includes goal setting, tackling technology challenges, confidence building and tips on networking within the organisation.
Mid-point and post-training reviews are essential. These should be designed to assess each candidate’s progress, provide them with actionable feedback and address areas in which they might need more coaching or mentoring before a decision is made on how to move ahead.
6. Brand the Programme and Highlight Success Stories
Naming the programme, giving it a dedicated page on the corporate website and talking about it on social media will increase its visibility and show that you are serious about it. Such communication will not only provide potential returnees with the information they need, but also help current employees tell their networks about it.
Highlight success stories as often as you can. Returnees should be encouraged to share their experience of joining the programme and details of their non-linear career paths. Such stories are not only proof of the programme’s merits, but also a source of inspiration for other returnees.
7. Market the Programme to Former Employees
Make a list of high-performing employees who’ve left for a career break. These are individuals whom you would probably welcome back with open arms. Our advice is to track their trajectories and target them in all your return-to-work branding and communication initiatives. This would ensure that you are among the companies at the top of their list of prospective employers when they are ready to return to the workforce.